Companies encourage more worker involvement EMPOWERED EMPLOYEES

February 11, 1993|By Amy L. Miller Staff Writer

When Marada Industries practices employee involvement, it puts its money where its policy is.

The auto parts manufacturer is one of several in Carroll County, from Londontowne to Ingersoll-Dresser, that allow or encourage employees to assist in making management decisions. Marada makes involvement mandatory, and backs up its program by letting employee teams spend the company's money to implement employee decisions.

"Associate [employee] involvement is not so much a program as a culture, philosophy and way of life at Marada," said Susanne Dyer-Gear, the company's human resources manager. "We believe that the person doing the job, from stacking parts and inspecting them to human resources management to sweeping the floor, is the expert at it.

"Therefore, it stands to reason that person is in the best position to make improvements and have ideas on how to make the job simpler or more efficient."

Employee involvement programs vary from company to company. At All-State Welding, employees volunteer to become part of an involvement team, said general manager John Jurasic.

About eight employees of the 30 who work at the Taneytown subsidiary of ESOB in Hanover, Pa., have been trained in the employee involvement process, he said. The group chooses a project to tackle and solves it using the skills they've learned.

"They've improved the environment and the atmosphere," Mr. Jurasic said of the group, which has saved money on waste removal by recommending separate containers for recyclables. "They've made it a better place to work."

Although the two-year program has spawned other projects, Mr. Jurasic pointed to the recycling campaign as the most successful.

"I think they've been a big assistance to management to point out and solve some problems that otherwise would not have been given the time," he said.

Marada's employee involvement program is not a suggestion, but a job requirement.

"When new folks come to Marada, we tell them, 'You have the authority and responsibility to make improvements to your job, not check your brains at the door,' " said Ms. Dyer-Gear. "If you treat associates with respect and like the intelligent people they are, they respond to that."

When the company adds new equipment, associates are asked to help design it, making sure it is safe, easy and comfortable to use, she said.

Also, each of Marada's 219 employees is placed one of 17 cells, or teams of co-workers in the same department, to meet at least twice a month and discuss their jobs and how they can improve them. Cells range from three to 20 people, and have the authority to spend up to $200 on a project without managerial approval.

"The cell has to be in agreement, but after that they can spend up to $200 per project with no limit to the number of projects," said Ms. Dyer-Gear. "Some companies say, 'You do what? You give your people spending authority with no signatures needed?' But people haven't abused it. If you give that trust to your associates, they respond very well.

"Our associates are all mature adults that think of spending company money as they would spend their own."

Projects that involve more than one department can be tackled by groups of five to 10 associates on an improvement team. Associates can either join with company friends or post a notice on the bulletin boards to form teams.

These projects, which can cost up to $400 without manager approval, are also presented to the company steering committee. The 11-member steering committee has representatives from every department.

However, groups can spend more than the authorized amount with manager approval, Ms. Dyer-Gear said.

"Many [improvement teams] spend much more than $400," she said. "We have one team working on a $50,000 capital expenditure."

Ms. Dyer-Gear said the first four months of the program have garnered 343 suggestions, 222 of which were implemented.

This program, which replaced the company's original employee involvement plan, had a 445 percent improvement in involvement over the other program, she said.

"The biggest problem we had with the old continuing-improvement plan was too much management involvement," Ms. Dyer-Gear said. "Now, people don't need permission or approval to complete their improvement projects. They just do it."

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